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3 miles N of Troon, off A78
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F. Morris, Fred W. Hawtree
Western Gailes Golf Club is wedged between Irvine Bay and the railway tracks on one of Ayrshire’s narrowest strips of links land. Western and its next-door neighbour, Glasgow Gailes, are the northernmost of the exceptional links courses located on this prodigious stretch of Ayrshire coastline.
Four Glaswegians who were fed up with playing on muddy parkland founded the club in 1897. They recruited the first keeper of the greens, Mr. F. Morris, to lay out the course on land leased from the Duke of Portland. Western Gailes is listed in the catalogue of Simpson & Company Golf Architects, but we don't know what work Tom Simpson may have carried out prior to Fred W. Hawtree developing four new holes in the mid 1970s to accomodate a new road.
Western is an unusual layout in that the clubhouse is more or less centrally located. The first four holes head north, parallel to the railway tracks. The next nine holes head straight back along the coastline in a southerly direction, passing the clubhouse along the way, and then the closing five holes head northwards, back towards the clubhouse and once more along the railway line.
Whilst the layout, as we have already mentioned, is unusual but ostensibly nine out and nine back, the holes are wonderfully varied. The fairways undulate gently, interrupted occasionally by three meandering burns that dissect this thin strip of land. The greens sites are cleverly located in naturally folded ground; some are protected by burns whilst others, like the 6th, are in hollows guarded by sand dunes. All the greens are fast, firm and subtly contoured. The 14th hole, a wonderful par five which often plays downwind, provides a huge temptation for big hitters, but numerous bunkers lie in wait.
Be prepared for a westerly wind that can be undeniably ferocious and cunning as it switches direction from south-westerly to north-westerly. On occasions it can be soul-destroying. Western Gailes is a suitably fitting name for this golf course.
Western is a very stiff golfing test – expect to use every club in the bag. The layout measures 6,714 yards from the back tees and Western has hosted a number of important events, including the 1972 Curtis Cup, narrowly won by the USA and the 1964 PGA Championship, won by AG Grubb. Additionally, the course is used for final qualifying when the Open is played at Troon or Turnberry.
Architect Tom Mackenzie sent us this exclusive quote in August 2020 regarding the work his firm was undertaking at Western Gailes:
“Mackenzie & Ebert’s work focuses on the bunkering with drive bunkers re-sited and re-styled to make them less severe but more visually stimulating. Tee positions are being adjusted with forward tees being added on some holes to make the carries more consistent in different wind conditions.
Some green surround reshaping is being undertaken on holes such as the 5th, 9th and 18th. The first phase was completed in early 2020 with a second phase completing the bunker work in the autumn of 2020. Further phases may well follow. This makes the course more forgiving for the shortest players and more challenging for the better players.”
Western Gailes is at the championship end of the scale rather than quirky, and although fairly short from the yellows it’s one of the tougher courses you’ll find.
It’s solid and consistent rather than a course that’ll keep forcing your camera out, the exceptions being the aforementioned 6th and 7th where you play on to and into the biggest dunes. Besides these, personally the holes merged into each other a bit for me.
So I wouldn’t say the course is of ‘Open’ standard but it’s not far behind, and the conditioning matches the green fee. I had a very friendly welcome too, but Western Gailes didn’t quite hit the spot for me when compared to its ranking.
This is a classic links course that doesn’t have the reputation of some of its near neighbours but is just as good a test. There is a good variety of holes despite the relatively high number of par 4s (13). The course set-up generally allows you to hit driver off most tees without being overly restrictive but being particularly wayward can still be punished. Standout holes were the par 5 6th, which requires careful navigation to a tricky green, and the par 3 13th, heavily bunkered with a burn across the front. It’s a course that I immediately felt I wanted to play again given the challenges laid out by a number of the holes. Well worth it’s place in the GB&I top 50.
Western Gailes is the genuine article. A strong, hardy links that combines links and heathland where a railway dashes alongside many of the holes whilst the beach and sea provide the backdrop to the other fence line. There’s a ruggedness that I love about Western Gailes that can’t be recreated on new courses as you’re routed across low and bumpy duneland. I could see many a wily Scotsman plying their trade here with low, fizzing tee shots and bump and runs to keep their ball below the wind.
I really like how the course is skilfully routed across this slim piece of land. Rather than being out and back, 1 to 4 provide the appetiser along the train tracks, then comes the main course from 5 through 13 that bring in the lovely sea views including the best of the dunes, whilst dessert is served from 14 to 18 as they bring you back again along the railway.
The course starts off strong with a beautifully bumpy fairway at the opening hole and a sunken green on the 2nd but most people who’ve researched Western Gailes in advance will know that it’s at 6 and 7 where the most exceptional holes appear. These holes would grace any links course on the planet, 6 being a short par five where the second shot plays blind over high dunes to a wiggly fairway and a hidden green, whereas 7 plays into an amphitheatre-like dune with beautiful revetted bunkering carved into the green sides. I’d probably argue that Western Gailes is maybe two outstanding holes shy of being a genuine world top 100 contender, although I could also throw the 9th and 17th into the conversation of world class holes at Western Gailes. The 9th fairway is insane, a humpty-dumpty of a crumpled fairway where no flat lies will be found. And at 17, the fairway snaps at mid-point as you play semi-blind over a heathery ridge before hitting towards a raised sighting-cross over another lumpy fairway where sneaky pot bunkers lie beside the green.
In fairness, all of the holes could be described as being very good and I’d only have the minor quibble that the hidden burns buried in front of some of the greens felt a little repetitive in places. Also, whilst only my personal opinion, and I understand the reason for the fairway bunker changes where pot bunkers have been removed and blowout bunkers introduced, but pot bunkers are more to my tastes on a links course and I feel that the new bunkering takes away from some of Western Gailes’ unique character. I don’t want to finish on a downbeat note though as Western Gailes is pretty special and a course that I felt was better than nearby Prestwick and competes with its open rota neighbour at Royal Troon. A trip to the Ayrshire coast is not complete without a round at Western Gailes and you’ll be hard pushed to find a more consistently strong links across Scotland. This course with its thick rough will no doubt provide a test of your golf, but it’s a pleasure rather than a chore to be tested by Western Gailes.
Western Gailes has been on my bucket list of courses for a very long time, ever since I first read Bernard Darwin. I finally played there on 2nd October on a perfect autumn day, with frost on the greens followed by a hot, hot sun. For a,lover of links golf, there can be few places as heavenly as Western Gailes on a warm autumn day, and two of our group decided that the welcome at the clubhouse was so warm that they would spend the afternoon on the terrace. The course was a surprise - I did not believe the hype that it could host an Open if it had better practice facilities and a better access road, but it's absolutely true. This course stands comparison with the famous Royal courses which I've played: St George's, Portrush, County Down, Dornoch and Cinque Ports. We played yellow tees in the morning and whites in the afternoon and they are very different experiences. I would recommend higher handicaps play off the yellows, otherwise you will be hitting 3 irons, not 7 irons into the greens. The greens are fantastic and each hole is memorable. What a wonderful place and thank you for all your hospitality during these difficult Covid times.
I would say this is more a course for the golfing traditionalist than for me. Dont get me wrong this is a brilliant layout and in great condition but a pet peeve of mine is not being able to see your ball land on a straight drive or when you hit a green. I wouldn't say there are blind shots in the traditional sense because you can see parts of the fairways you are hitting to most of the time, it just leaves you guessing until you walk up to the ball on too many occasions for my liking and being blunt the results can be in the lap of the gods a little.
Other than my personal dislike of semi blind shots it is a great test and a fantastic clubhouse and the course was in amazing condition. I feel most people will like it more than I did so all in I would say its very worth a visit and maybe if I played it again I would give it a 5, not sure.
Having played a fair few of the top links courses in Scotland, I can't think of many that are as much fun as playing at Western Gailes. It is a beautifully set out course, with sloping green complexes and well placed deep bunkers. As others have said, it is not a long course, but with bunkers and long rough to contend with, accuracy is called for over power. I think this is part of the course's charm. Challenging your approach play in the wind, or recovery skills if you fall into one of the courses well laid out traps. There are some great views from the tee boxes in the dunes. Angled looks at slithers of fairways that can make you very uncomfortable at what should be simple drives. The greens are worth a mention too, as they played beautifully. A lovely pace and as smooth as you could hope for. Should perhaps be higher in the Scottish list in my opinion.
What a golf course! The track is splendid. A briliant variety of holes with a stunning coastal location. The fact that i played it with a reasonnable wind on a beautiful sunny day made it easy for sure.
To me Western Gailes is the n°3 course you must play in the area after Turnberry & Troon. Definitely a must play.
Interesting that you've put Western Gailes as the no.3 must-play course in the area. I've heard from a few people that it's a more enjoyable course than Troon. Apart from Troon being an Open venue, is there anything else that gives it the edge over WG? I've not played either so I'm keen to hear opinions on the subject.
I rank it as the n°3 course because i have been more impressed with the general quality of the old course at Troon.
According to me the course set up was better at Troon.
I also have to say that :
1 - I have always thought i would enjoy Western Gailes but i was not sure about Troon so the surprise is bigger.
2 - The staff has been lot more welcoming in Troon
3 - Both rounds were free. I must say that Western Gailes is probably a better value.
I hope this answers your questions :)
I first played here in 1993, returned in 1995 and then had a long absence until a recent visit. In 1993 Western Gailes was the hidden gem of Scotland and finding a tee time was fairly easy. That is no longer the case as it was discovered a long time ago as one of the best and most natural links golf courses in Scotland, if not the world.
It is as natural a setting as one would find on a golf course, with the course seemingly carved and constructed more by nature than by man.
I find it to be a very challenging golf course, requiring decision making as well as skill in order to play near one's index. I would love to see an Open or a major tournament played here by the top pros. Without wind, I would expect a 4 day score of 25-27 under par due to the lack of length but with wind the winning score could be 10 under. But alas, given its location, the train line, and lack of suitable infrastructure that will likely never happen without closing the train line and using land from nearby courses.
As for the golf course, it is splendid. I really enjoy the counter clockwise routing of four holes out, nine holes in an opposite direction along the sea, and five holes coming back to the clubhouse.
In reading the other reviews I note that some lament that there are only two par 5's and only three par 3's. There is also a bit of commentary about holes 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 all being of a similar dogleg shape with the tee shot away from the beach but the approach shot back at the beach. The final critique is that the finishing holes are not nearly as good as what has come before it.
There is some validity to those comments if one wanted a more balanced scorecard. However, the holes that are there are expertly laid out and so natural while varying the green complexes that I find it difficult to want to change it.
The starting four holes are somewhat gentle but I really like the shape of the 2nd hole as well as the approach into the second green will the mounding to the right and the fall off. The third hole presents a narrow opening to the tee on this short par four if you navigate the fairway bunkers. Do not go long over the green as taller grass awaits.
The fourth hole, another short par 4, has two raised pot bunkers on opposite sides of the fairway and another five bunkers to defend the hole.
The long par four 5th hole is a gem and is well defended by three large and deep bunkers fronting the green.
I note in the reviews that many think the 6th hole, a short par five is the class of the golf course due to the tumbling fairway and the "tucked-in" nature of the green setting. It is very good.
But for me, the class of Western Gailes is the 180 yard par 3 7th hole, along the sea with great views and sheltered into the dunes with five bunkers surrounding the green and a nasty, somewhat hidden one up on the left in the dunes.
The short 8th par 4 brings a burn into play and deep bunkers around the green. It is a gem.
The 9th, another short par 4 is another gem with the green having bunkers on the ridge line to a hidden green that is once again surrounded by bunkers. It is a lovely golf hole.
The 10th hole ends the short par fours and once again the burn is in play fronting the green.
The 11th is a long par 4 and the unique feature to this dogleg right is that the green feels like another dogleg as the green is situated right of the fairway.
The 12th is another long par 4 but to me not as interesting as the hole before it.
If someone wants to say the short 150 yard par 3 13th is the best par three on the golf course I would not argue. One has to navigate a burn and seven deep bunkers all around the green.
On 14, you now turn back towards the clubhouse on the longest par five on the course. I found this hole to be pretty average with a wide fairway.
15 is a mirror image of 13 except it is longer at 190 yards and does not have the burn in front. It is a terrific, natural looking hole.
16 offers a longer carry for the tee shot to the fairway and the tee is situated next to the rail line. There are five fairway bunkers that pinch the fairway to a smaller size. Big hitters will drive over them. The burn fronts the green but there is sufficient landing room to clear it to this raised green.
17 is a long par 4 that has a dogleg left at the end to a raised green and requires you to clear a ridge line of taller grass to a series of humps and bumps fronting the green. Another fine golf hole.
From the member tee, the finishing hole is simply a question of avoiding the bunkers on the right side of the fairway. There is ample room to the left of them. In the absence of wind, these fairway bunkers are easily driven over by the big hitter. There are seven bunkers as you near the green but two of them are pretty far from the green.
Western Gailes, once the hidden gem, of Scotland, is a delight to play both for the views and for the challenge of the golf course. The green complexes are really good, some due to nature and some due to the placement of the bunkers. And being a member for the day, with the lunch in a very nice clubhouse added as part of the experience, it is a must play.
There is so much good golf on Scotland’s West Coast that Western Gailes sometimes get lost in the crowd, which is a shame because it is such a classic links course, featuring pot bunkers, rippling fairways and a routing through the dunes. The fun begins on the second hole which plays from an elevated tee and the view that is presented to the golfer is one of a heather-strewn dogleg hole with hillocks and grassy banks. The third hole features a hidden putting surface on your approach shot. I really liked the 15th hole, a demanding par three that plays toward the water (I hit driver into the wind). The only drawback the course has is that as you make the turn and come back toward the clubhouse there are too many holes that play in the same direction, and with the wind blowing (and O.B. potentially coming into play) it can grind you down. The historic locker room is a real beauty with its dark woods and warm feel. Personally, I would rather play Western Gailes over nearby Troon if in the area.
Initial impressions after playing any course for the first time can often be influenced by preconceptions. My visit to Western Gailes was no exception. I already knew it would be good, and so it came to pass, but this meant it could struggle to blow me away. Or perhaps it just wouldn’t be that good after all? The course was also too well known to be discovering a hidden gem, and ultimately wasn’t surprising enough vs my expectations to give a feeling of experiencing something truly special.
What you objectively get though is surely a very good links course. Proper firm irregular turf? Check. Sea? Check. Railway line? Check. Dunes? Check. Variety of green sites? Check. And so on. As previous reviewers have mentioned, the early holes head north inland, and it’s the stretch from 5-10 or so which really captures the imagination.
Some of these holes were thrilling and the land over which they traverse is excellent. If I had one criticism though, it would be that too many of these holes felt like teeing off from a tee-box beside the ocean, back inland to a hole that runs back to the sea. This made it feel like several left to right doglegs in a row that play in the same direction, and dare I say it, a little monotony crept in. However, it meant my “power fade” worked a treat.
I think another designer may have been more creative with the exact routing of these seaside holes. And if I can allow myself a second criticism, I would also have squeezed in another Par 3 along this opening stretch to add some more variety in the direction of play. The less spectacular (i.e. inland) holes were perfectly acceptable and even provided some welcome diversity, with obstacles such as burns guarding greens.
Notable holes for me were the Par 5 6th, where I always seemed to be hitting a blind shot with the 4 blows it took to reach the green, and the Par 3 7th with its sheltered green. The 9th was a lovely short par 4 with scattered bunkers guarding the green at varying distances out. The 11th has an interesting approach that disorientated like a distant cousin of Dornoch’s Foxy, and the 17th did something similar, only the other way. On both of these par 4’s I played to the green with my third shot as I wasn’t quite sure where I was going. I also enjoyed the camouflaging/graded central bunkers on the Par 3 15th that must cause issues with club selection.
In 2019 Western Gailes is probably overrated. Nevertheless, it’s a must play course and one I will happily return to. And as long as it has the fairly mundane looking track just down the coast at three times the price, I think Western Gailes will always be a very pleasant surprise for any golfing visitor to Ayrshire